Infrared isn't just glowing in the dark
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1996. First
published in Canadian Computer Wholesaler, June 1996
What do you get when you cross a TV remote control
with a personal computer?
How about wireless solutions that make mobile
computing a lot more convenient.
And when you shrink the computer to the size of a wallet, you get the
of digital commerce.
Maybe when you think of wireless connection, you think
data by something like a cell-phone connection, like with GDT
InfoWave package. That?s great for sending information over long
but for zapping data across a desk or an office, something more akin to
your TV?s remote. There?s been small-scale personal wireless for a
has marketed a wireless mouse for several years, for example... there
also wireless keyboards, for people who don?t like cables on the
But now, there?s a new standard for infrared
by IrDA, the InfraRed Data Association. This makes it possible for
to add infrared ports, with some assurance that computers and
from different companies will be able to communicate.
As a result, for example, the new Leo portable Pentium
that I reviewed,
came with an infrared port on the back?a dark rectangular window, about
2 cm long by 0.5 cm wide. Similar ports are on an estimated 32% of all
portable computers sold in the last year.
But what can it communicate with?
An increasing number of new laser printers,
particularly models aimed
at large offices, rather than home users, are sporting IrDA-compatible
ports. With these models, it?s possible to take your portable into an
simply point it at the printer, and print... no fussing with cables, no
risking unhooking the network and angering half the logged-in users
you abort their printouts.
Hewlett-Packard is one of the main forces behind
IrDA... they?ve added
infrared support to much of their printer line. They?re also selling
NetBeamIR-an infrared network access point. This could be quite
for many mobile computer users who need to drop in at the office, and
connect into the network. Again, no more fussing with cables?it could
for itself replacing PC-Card ethernet adapters, and pricy docking
stations for multiple users.
Infrared and radio wireless connections are also
beginning to coexist.
AST and Nokia showed off a system at January?s PacRim Comdex, to run on
the recently announced Personal Communications System (PCS). The
port on a portable from AST or other manufacturer, can be used to
to Nokia?s 2190 PCS digital phone, for e-mail, fax, Internet
with no modem at all.
The minimal power requirements of infrared, compared
to PC Cards, is
a real boon to hand-held devices. Suddenly, these can become much
to connect?to desktop computers, to printers, to networks, and even to
And infrared wireless data exchange is vital to
with digital wallets... expect, sometime in the near future, to point
click these hand-held computers, to fill them with digital cash... then
point them at a cash-register?s IR port, to transfer money from the
to the vendor, and pay your grocery or restaurant bill. Point your
at your child?s to transfer his or her weekly allowance.
Right now, there?s a big gap?the hardware is becoming
but, like PC Cards a couple of years ago, there?s no operating
software support. But if you?re using Windows 95, you can add IrDA
with Service Pack 1 (full version), from Microsoft. And I?d expect it
be built into the next generation of operating systems, like the
Merlin version of IBM?s OS/2, or Apple?s Copland.
Right now, I?m typing this article on a portable
computer... but with
the computer on my lap, I?m tangled in a mess of cables?a power cable
the wall, a phone cable from my PC Card modem, a parallel cable to my
drive and printer. It?s convenient, but I?d sure feel freer without all
Infrared won?t let me get rid of them all?I?ll need
longer lasting batteries
for that. But as this standard becomes more established, I?m hoping
the little, rectangular port on the back of the computer will allow me
more computing freedom, sometime soon. I?m even prepared to use it to
my son Joey?s weekly allowance into his digital wallet.